A.B. from Hartford County, Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Our condo association imposed a special assessment. We were not notified of the assessment. They sent a letter to our daughter’s address notifying us that we had been referred to an attorney for collection. This ended up costing us $400 in fees. The property management company now refuses to send us anything in writing telling us how much we still owe for the special assessment. We were told that we should have known that it was being sent to the wrong address and that it was not their responsibility to verify addresses for condo owners when they took over from the previous management company. The previous management company had our correct address, so we’re not sure where the current company got the address they are using.
We feel that the Management Company should reimburse us for the fees and they should send us something in writing telling us what our monthly association charges are as well as what the amount is for the special assessment.
Mister Condo replies:
A.B., I am sorry for your troubles. Special assessments are challenging even under the best of circumstances. The additional communication challenge between your association, the management company, and yourself only seems to have compounded that challenge. I can see this issue from the viewpoint of all parties involved and I encourage you to seek legal counsel if you think you have a case. However, in my non-legal opinion, I think it may be less expensive to simply pay the fees and be more careful providing your correct mailing address moving forward. Let’s break down this transaction and see where it might be improved in the future so this doesn’t happen again.
If your condo association imposed a special assessment, money was needed for a major project for the association. Once the assessment is levied, the financial burden is put upon the individual unit owners that make up the association. Notice can be given in a variety of methods but the most common is simply a letter sent out to the unit owners of record when the assessment was levied. Notice was most likely given to you at that time by a letter being sent to the unit that you own and/or any other address that you had put on file with the association. That is the only way the association can communicate with you.
The property management firm is simply fulfilling their duties as outlined in their agreement with your association. Most likely, collection of delinquent fees falls under that job description. Since you didn’t pay your assessment in timely fashion, the collection process was initiated, which includes fees to you based upon the expense of hiring collections personnel to handle the extra work of the association. Additionally, your association likely has a fine schedule in place to discourage late payments. Unlike the association, the folks in collection will be far more diligent in seeking you out to collect the monies owed. In this case, they found your daughter’s address and sent a letter, which prompted you to action. This is what collection agencies and personnel are paid to do. They generally get results.
I have to assume you do not live in the unit in question here nor do you get mail that is addressed to you forwarded from there. That is unfortunate because mail forwarding would have allowed all this unpleasantness to have been avoided. Notify the local post office and instruct your renters to forward all of your mail to you. This isn’t a perfect solution but it will help. You need to contact your association in writing with the mailing address you would like used for any association correspondence. You also need to keep a copy of that written request on file in case you need to refer to it at a later date. If, by chance, you had already done that prior to this incident, then you may have a case for having the collection fees reduced or removed. Without that proof, I doubt you would be successful in pleading your case that you weren’t notified.
As for monthly notification of common fees, that is a discussion between your Board and the Property Management firm. Of course, it is possible, but it is not required. There may be an additional cost to providing the service but I am sure the management firm will comply with the request from the Board.
I have one final question for you. Were you the only unit owners that this happened to? If not, the group of affected unit owners may have a case to appeal before the Board as a group and claim that the lack of communication was the association’s fault. It may be difficult to find out who else faced the same challenge but there is strength in numbers and, collectively, you may be able to bring about a correction in how the association communicated with owners.